Theatre Styles and Playwrights Timeline


Greek Theatre

550 BC - 220 BC

-Derived in Ancient Greece
- Masks commonly used for characterisation
- Famous playwrights include Sophocles (496-406 BC) and Euripides (480-380 BC)

Roman Theatre

240 BC - 476
  • Ancient Rome
  • Main theatre form was farce (influenced by old Greek comedy) -Famous playwrights were Livius Andronicus (284-204BC) and Lucius Seneca (4BC-65AD)

Medieval Theatre

401 - 1500
  • Liturgical Drama
  • Comic characters used exaggeration
  • Playwrights include Hrosvitha (935-1002) and Adam de la Halla (1237-1288)

Commedia Dell'arte

1510 - 1650
  • 'Comedy of the Artists'
  • Originates from Roman Farce
  • Playwrights include Carlo Goldoni (1707-1793) and Molière (1622-1673) who did not write Commedia but was greatly influenced by it in his own work.


1576 - 1642
  • Started in England
  • Classed as English Renaissance
  • Famous playwrights include William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe

17th Century French Neoclassicism

1648 - 1789
  • Plays concerned with ideas and their effect on human beings
  • Theatres similar to today
  • Famous playwrights include Racine (1639 – 1673) and Moliere (1622-1673)

Restoration Comedy

1660 - 1710
  • Mainly known for the comedies of manners
  • Centred on love
  • Famous playwrights include William Congreve and Oliver Goldsmith

18th Century Sentimentalism

1701 - 1800
  • Behaviour became more restrained; interest in royal and high class circles reduced – the middle class became more aware of itself
  • Acting became more natural and lifelike
  • Famous playwrights include Richard Sheridan and John Gay

Australian Drama

  • Started in 1788
  • Lawler and Alan Seymour are among famous playwrights

19th Century Melodrama

1801 - 1900
  • Classed as the ‘Romantic Age’
  • Melodramas are serious plays in which good and evil are clearly separated
  • Famous playwrights include Anthony Hope and Douglas Jerrold


1860 - 1900
  • Realists aimed to represent real life
  • Famous playwrights from the era include Henrik Ibsen and George Bernard Shaw


1880 - 1940
  • Believed that theatre should be like ‘a slice of life’ – lifelike scenery; costumes and methods of acting
  • In 1909 Stanislavski established the acting system that became the foundation for much of the realistic and naturalistic acting of the 20th Century – known as ‘method acting’
  • Famous playwrights include Emile Zola and Anton Chekhov

20th Century Symbolism and Expressionism

1890 - 1940
  • Strongly fought against theatre being a social/political voice
  • Vocal work had greater emphasis on silence and static
  • Among the famous playwrights are; JM Barrie and Alfred Jarry

Epic Style and Didacticism

1910 - 1950
  • Films used as background scenery
  • Music to neutralise emotion rather than strengthen it
  • Famous playwrights include Jean Genet and Bertolt Brecht

Theatre of the Absurd

1951 - 1972
  • Traditional theatrical performances were rejected in favour of illogical speeches and events, characters that change into animals, inappropriate silences and inconclusion
  • Inanimate objects coming to life
  • Famous playwrights include Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco


  • Movement – total body as a communicator
  • Ideas – tend to be complex
  • Famous playwrights include Harold Pinter and Joe Orton